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Friday, April 10, 2009

Alessi Factory of Italian Design


Aldo Rossi Kettle


I needed to find the perfect wedding gift for a good friend in the United States. She loves things from Italy, but her house and her tastes are both ultra contemporary. And so I wanted something Italian, modern, and special. Luckily, I was in Stresa. Which is only 20 minutes away from the world headquarters of the world famous Alessi design company, in Omegna.

Welcome to Alessi!

The Alessi family says they have been living here, on the shores of Lake Orta, "since time immemorial." Giovanni Alessi was a talented sheet metal worker who started the company in 1921. During the Second World War, Alessi produced brass stars for uniforms, parts for Savoia Marchetti airplanes, and, brass ladles for the U.S. Army. But after the war Giovanni's son Carlo, trained in industrial design, was able to design what he wanted to. His son, Alberto, now runs the company. Alberto describes it not as a manufacturer, but as an industrial research laboratory. Do not even think of calling his products average household items. Alberto says,

"Alessi products are still considered as being handicraft items made with the aid of machines"

“a true work of design must be able to move people, to convey feelings, to trigger memories, to surprise, to go against the grain... We work on expressive languages and on the expressive potential of the items.."

"Our role as a “Factory of Italian Design,” somewhere between manufacturing and art, has gradually attracted the attention of museums of applied arts and industrial design from all over the world, and there have been many exhibitions of our work."


He is not bragging. Many Alessi products are instantly recognizable. In fact, you may be more accustomed to seeing them in museums than in shops, because they are part of more permanent museum collections around the world than those of any other design company. And maybe that is why, when you first enter the company store in Omegna, it feels a bit like a museum. A fun museum. You turn off from the main road when you see the giant teapot statue marking the entrance. Continue down the driveway to the parking lot, where you'll see a 40-foot-tall plastic statue of the Alessi toilet bowl cleaner. There's one more statue by the door... The familiar smiling face of the Alessi corkscrew. Inside the shop each collection is grouped together. Only one piece of each item is on display. The collections are, in turn, classic, whimsical, fun, elegant, thought-provoking, and overall, beautiful.


Decide what you want, then a sales associate will bring stock to you from a storeroom. There are two prices on each product, indicating a normal price for a 'first', and a greatly discounted price for a 'second.' And I mean greatly discounted. Dinner plates for 3 euro, large platters for 15 euro, and the famous Alessi tea kettles for about 25% of what they would be in a store in the U.S.


Therefore, it was a little difficult to not overdue. For my friend I chose the Aldo Rossi 1986 tea kettle, along with a set of moka cups and saucers, and another set of espresso cups. Another friend received the Michael Graves tea kettle. And from me to me, I chose some white porcelain, square and rectangular dishes. Which I test drove, before they even left Italy, when I made my first real Italian lasagne.


I only regret that I didn't stock up on more of the smaller items, the corkscrews, salt and pepper sets, the utensils. The prices here, even with the euro/dollar exchange rate, are truly fantastic. As for the seconds, I could find nothing, nothing at all, second about them. And the store is just plain fun.


Alessi store is located at: Via Tiro a Segno, 45, Omegna.


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